By Paul Kinchin
On the 11th February, AFC Wimbledon were 10 points off safety in league one or 11 if you counted a much inferior goal difference. Neal Ardley, a lap top manager of the modern school, had left the club in early December for basket case Notts County with the Dons in quite a mess. Worrying noises were emanating from the corridors of power at Wimbledon that Russell Slade and Kevin Nolan were in the mix. Frankly, their musical namesakes would have made better candidates. The club needed a reboot from top to bottom. Volunteers were drifting away. The academy was not yielding the results we needed. The Football Club Board seemed unfit for purpose. Dons Trust meetings were like bridge night at the Lensbury.
Cue Wally Downes and Glyn Hodges, smashing through the doors like a new modern day Robin Hood. In the moments before "too late territory" the fans mobilised. Letters in to the board. A clamour for a DNA driven reboot. Viewed in some quarters as misty-eyed hankerings for a bygone era, this was perhaps a gamble but it was a gamble that we needed to take as a club. The knockers were mainly the sorts you'd steer clear of in a pub. Somehow convinced that the Wimbledon DNA was not something to be cherished.
As clubs up and down the country struggle to fulfil pay roll under megalomaniac owners spurred on by unrealistic fan bases, our club carries the burden of responsibility to show how football should and could be done. Fan owned. Fan run. Break even. So, gamble taken. And we all sat back and watched the adventure unfold. It was just stunning.
Prior to joining, Wally had been in India coaching and Glyn was improving his golf. Their managerial cvs read like, well, coaching cvs. No management experience between them yet coaching ability brewed under such managerial leading lights as Harry Bassett, Mark Hughes and Redknapp.
Complicated instructions, delivered confusingly to players used to Fortnite, X Box and Nandos had done for Wimbledon. Now we needed simplicity. If you are going to lose the ball, lose it in the final third and get it there quickly. Stop shooting from 35 yards. It'll go in once in a blue moon unless your name is Messi. Push up your full backs. Win your battles. Win both halves.
These two are a revelation. They were the 1st and 2nd apprentices ever at Wimbledon. They set up free kick routines with beer mats in the bar before before kick-off so it is fresh in player minds. They send videos of good things by What's App as "that's what the kids today understand". They built our Great Escape around academy graduates and ditched our highest paid players ruthlessly. They signed a bloke from Ireland who would be at Real Madrid if his passing matched his pace. They drink with the fans after the match and know the names of the tea ladies.
They are doing things the Wimbledon Way as the Wimbledon Way means something.
How on earth is this relevant to the Colts away at Bracknell, I hear you cry?
Well, as Gaffers, we believe that kids football means something. We believe that we are all responsible for helping the kids make memories that they will cherish for the rest of their lives. Think about your childhood memories. If you won trophies, how special did that feel? I still have my Shere and District Avery Electrical League U12s Invitation Cup Trophy.
I have to admit that I had a lump in my throat twice yesterday. One when my son, Francis, turned to me and said "see you on the pitch Dad" after we had secured league one survival away at Bradford City. And one when Jacob's face crumpled into tears after notching his 40th goal of the campaign with a sweetly struck penalty.
What we do matters. So, if it matters, let's do it with passion and heart.
Colts needed to beat Bracknell to secure the title. We had only managed a 2-2 draw in the home game. 1-1 at half time. This was tough though our goal was a thing of beauty. We needed one last big 35 minutes of the season. And boy did we get it?!
We have tried to follow the Wally and Glyn mantra and it helps that our coach, Alan Sellers, used to play with Wally at Wimbledon reserves in the 70s. Simplicity is key. Intensity must come as standard.
The second half saw the very best of the Colts. Defenders battling like their lives depended on it. Wingers driving forward yet tracking back. A CDM owning his “manor”. Our CAM purring and probing like Messi himself. And our strikers, well, there is little more to say. 42 goals in the last 6 Colts fixtures. Inspirational.
Two title winners in the same age group. Colts and Knights. Bloody brilliant. Proud of every single one of them.
But it takes team work. Parents. Players. Gaffers. Stef, Russ, Charlotte, Dave, Woody, everyone involved. 300 kids playing football every week. You are all helping to make those memories for these kids.
Roll on next season.
Bracknell Colts 2 Colts 6
Jacob 3, Aryan 2, Archie 1
MOTM Louis and Aryan
Weather in Bracknell Fair
Weather in Bradford Chilly